*Spoiler Alert! I’ll be discussing detailed plot points about the 2015 film remake of Poltergeist below. You’ll have less chance of spoiling your lunch if you read it here than actually watching this nausea-inducing trainwreck*
Very few things annoy me more than when Hollywood decides to chase the money and crank out a remake of a beloved classic film (your definition of beloved may vary). With the current climate of reboot and rebrand and repeat going on today, this problem has become an epidemic, and the casualties are mounting. Just look at poor Patrick Swayze, may he rest in peace. First, Chris Hemsworth headed an horrifically bad and unnecessary remake of the Swayze/Charlie Sheen brothers in arms classic Red Dawn. That’s been followed up by a terribly unimaginative re-do of the Swayze/Keanu/Busey surfing bank robber epic Point Break. Now with more X-treme! I must’ve missed when we time warped back to 1997.
And to top it off, there’s news that the Swayze/Sam Elliott ass-kicker Roadhouse is getting redone, starring women’s UFC superstar Ronda Rousey. No offense to Rousey (please don’t beat me senseless) but that’s the trifecta of picking the bones of a great career many of us recall very fondly. At least Ghost is safe. Wait, what? Oh, for fucks sake!
With this cavalcade of awfulness going on, I thought I’d dive into the deep end and subject myself to another one of these hideously unnecessary money grabs, Poltergeist. I’m going to watch it now and pause every so often to throw up my thoughts on the 2015 remake of the classic 1982 horror film (and I do mean throw up. I may vomit). This is about as clear an example of an unnecessary remake as there is. Generally, a film I consider unnecessary is one who’s original is strong enough (and in some cases, recent enough) that a remake has only the possibility of ending up an inferior film. So, Poltergeist? Check and mate on that.
The original Poltergeist is certainly not perfect. Aspects of it are dated to the point of incomprehensible to some younger audiences. The national anthem playing before the channel signed off late at night and switched to static comes to mind. And the special effects used at the time can sometimes be a bit clunky, like the guy peeling his face off in the bathroom mirror. But if cheesy effects and inconsequential dating is the reason you’d want to remake this movie, you should really go back and watch it again because I think you missed the point.
The 1982 version was written (mostly) and produced by Steven Fucking Spielberg at the height of his Spielbergian powers in the early ’80s. It was directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame (another of his films to be victimized by an unnecessary remake), and starred Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and that creepy little girl who played Carol Anne (who even more creepily died filming a later sequel). The new version is directed by Gil Kenan who, according to IMDB, is known for some shit I’ve never heard of. It stars Sam Rockwell (who I’m totally cool with. Moon was awesome! ) Rosemarie DeWitt and some non-creepy dark haired girl whose character’s name is no longer Carol Anne. It’s Madison. *sigh*
“Don’t go into the light, Madison,” just doesn’t have the same vibe as Zelda Rubinstein’s soul searing, and slightly country-fied, “Carol Anne!” But then, there’s no Tangina in this new version, anyway. *double sigh*
Well, here goes. I’m going to hit play and watch some, then comment when the mood strikes.
20 Minutes In…
After making it through the opening setup, my previous reservations have become full-on annoyance. Gone is the entire subplot between Craig T. Nelson and his boss. Shouldn’t matter much though, because it was only the entire proximate cause of the haunting, and by extension, the plot. No big deal. The unscrupulous boss, who moves the headstones from a graveyard, builds his houses right over the bodies then convinces his top salesman and family to move right into the model home, all the better for his sales, is out.
That moment near the end, standing on the hill beside the next graveyard his boss wanted to build atop, when Nelson realized what he’d done, and that all of their paranormal problems had been caused by that man’s greed and callousness, that’s gone too. Sam Rockwell’s boss is now a faceless John Deere exec who laid him off, causing the family to downsize for money reasons. Why change that original relationship? Now, they’re just another in a long line of hard luck horror movie families who got a little too good of a deal just when they were desperate for one, with inevitably ghastly consequences.
So not only is this an unnecessary remake, it’s now dumbed down an integral plot point from the original. The payoff in this one for why the house is haunted better be good, but I’m not sure how they can improve upon what they’ve already discarded.
Oh, and #thishouseisclean?!?
40 Minutes In…
So the abducting the little girl part is roughly the same only without any of the tension of the original. It’s almost as though the screenwriter said, “you know how this goes,” and gave us the cliff notes version in an extended montage scene. That’s an inherent problem with unnecessary remakes, particularly of well known originals. The audience already knows all the beats. A skilled filmmaker can sometimes use those audience expectations to their advantage. Or not, lest we forget the Khan debacle.
The result is the tree that attacks the boy loses its stoically ominous nature, the clown is barely creepy at all (quite an accomplishment to make a clown like that not frightening) and Madison’s “they’re here” gets mumbled out of necessity by a little girl who looks like she hasn’t slept in a month rather than Carol Anne’s welcoming, drawn out version that made everyone’s skin crawl. Again, how do you improve upon what doesn’t need improving? Don’t bother asking the makers of this film because they don’t seem to know either.
Apparently, the family does still live in a house where the developer moved the headstones of a graveyard but left the bodies. The parents find out at a dinner party. But now, it’s no longer a direct betrayal but something that happened long in the past and has become idle rumors for the snotty well-to-do. The movie also further reinforced the family’s money troubles with an extended “credit cards are overdrawn” scene, as well as some convenient condescension from other dinner party guests. The money angle makes sense as justification for how the family got into this situation, it’s just less original and much less interesting than its predecessor.
Another point of annoyance for me so far, as if I need one, is the lack of levity in this version. The supernatural happenings are all unambiguously evil. There’s none of the playfulness of the kitchen floor scene from the old film. It’s dark throughout, from the tone, the setting, the characters; it’s all skirting the edge of darkness all the time. Even Rockwell, who I generally enjoy, has descended to being irritating to the point where I just wish one of the others characters would tell him to shut the hell up. There’s no happiness present to be ripped away from the family like in the original. It’s just a group of people suffering bad on top of bad. It’s almost masochistic. Speaking of which, onward I go.
One Hour In…
How can I put this? The part about the paranormal investigative team is just like the original only less. The people are thin imitations, the pace of the film sped up to the point it’s sacrificing characterization, even the supernatural moments are slight, less complex variations of what we’ve already seen. The dad drinking and hallucinating about throwing up a worm(s); the ghostly apparition that floated downstairs/ghostly shadow that drifted upstairs, the anecdote by the cameraman about only seeing objects move with time lapse photography thrown in his face, a table leg/tennis ball goes into the upstairs closet and out the downstairs ceiling, covered in goo. One beat after another, all the same and all playing like somebody ticking items off a checklist. It’s almost as if this movie were filmed from a numbered outline rather than an actual screenplay.
There’s not a single element of this film so far that’s improved upon (or even matched) it’s original presentation. It seems to be simply a sequence of events that, taken on its own without the original film as a frame of reference, might well be incoherent. I can’t wait to see how it ends!
One Hour 15 Minutes in…
Ok, wow. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no Tangina in this version. But apparently, Captain Quint from Jaws was available. And what do you know, he happens to be the ex husband of the science team leader! Don’t you just love convenient symmetry?
We also discover that remote control drones can send back crystal clear picture from the underworld. That’s a nice feature. And the cemetery the developers built over was huge, as evidenced by the mounds of writhing corpses all over the place in limbo. How two children managed to evade all those thousands of desperately grasping limbs and escape remains unclear.
Which brings me to another change, the mother didn’t save the girl this time, her brother did. In fact, there’s little suggestion beforehand that the mother go at all. Now the film has taken bites out of both parents; the dad’s an unemployed loser who can’t support his family and the mother is a flighty (she’ll get to that novel someday, I’m sure) helpless bystander.
Mercifully, it’s almost over. I’ve still got the “surprise” after the faux ending to come. See what I mean about knowing all the beats?
Awful. Just awful. Points, though, for when the poltergeist flipped the minivan and dragged them all back into the house. That may have been the only genuinely cool moment in the entire movie. This time around, Captain Quint leaps into the abyss to lead the lost souls into the light, apparently by blasting the roof off the place. The house doesn’t completely implode, however, and Quint appears to survive, somehow, much to relief of his ex wife. That may be the most unrealistic thing to happen. Most people’s exes would likely be thrilled to have theirs swallowed up in a cavern of tormented souls, I would think.
Even the little bit of humor at the end didn’t work as well as the original, when Craig T. Nelson wrapped the movie up by wheeling the hotel TV out of their room. In this one, the family is house hunting again and run away when faced with a house having similar characteristics to their last one. How a broke, unemployed couple fresh from a demolished house they just bought can afford another one so soon is a bigger mystery than the poltergeist itself. You might want to check, but I’m reasonably sure homeowners insurance doesn’t cover ghosts ripping your house apart from the netherworld. Probably need a separate rider for that kind of coverage.
If they hadn’t spent a goodly portion of the first 45 minutes beating us over the head with the family’s money troubles, this scene might not be so terrible. As it is, I suspect the family simply took up fucking with realtors as a hobby rather than actually having the resources to buy another house, especially a bigger and better one than what they just demolished. It smacks of the screenwriter trying to be cute at the expense of consistency.
Overall, this was terrible. Basically the same movie as the original, only worse in every respect, often spectacularly so. But that’s not surprising. There was no reason for this movie to even be made. If you’re interested in watching a film that shits all over the far superior original (and Terminator Genisys isn’t available) by all means, give this a shot!
With Hollywood continuing to crank out little or nothing but inane reboots, comic book movies or some combination of both, the only question I’m left with is how long until tech gets truly affordable enough to kick off a genuine independent film revolution? It’s coming, sooner than later, no doubt. And when it does, it’ll benefit greatly from an audience likely desperate for some new material for once, thank you.
Dan Meadows is a writer living on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. Follow him on Twitter @watershedchron